Michael E. Reynolds, 30, injured both shoulders six years ago and was retired from the District of Columbia Police Department on a $9,300 a year tax-free disability pension. Last year Reynolds worked at Bowie State College as a football coach.
Police investigators, intrigued by this employment, have secretly photographed him repeatedly hoisting a heavy tackling dummy over his right shoulder and throwing it at onrushing linemen, according to sources who linemen, according to sources who have been the movies.
Reynolds, interviewed last week, told a reporter he had at times held tackling dummies, but that it was such an easy task "my wife could do it and she weighs 105 pounds." From time to time, he said, he has exerted himself. "I'm not saying I never threw a ball," he says. "I ran out and caught some passes once." But in such instances, he says, he is subsequently flattened with pain. "I've had three shoulder operations, two inches of my collarbone is missing and I've got arthritis," he said of his injury, which he received in a motorscooter accident. "I don't feel I'm cheating anyone."
The Reynolds case is one of 20 sent to the retirement board over the last year by a police unit that has been created specifically to look into alleged abuses in disability pensions for the city's policemen and firemen.
That unit spent several hundred thousand dollars last year, sending investigators around thecuntry to collect evidence on disabled city police and fire department retirees doing physical labor.
Besides Reynolds, they found a fireman, retired in his 30s when he cut his hand on glass, working at a fire department in Pennsylvania after having passed a stringent physical, and another retiree (back injury) lifting 25 and 50 pounds sacks of plaster on a construction job.
These cases have been at the retirement board for at least the last six months, yet the board, to the dismay of the investigators, has yet to re-examine a single one of them.
The handling of these cases provides another opportunity to examine Washington's police and fire department system, which is among the most generous in the country.
Eight-two per cent of the city's estimated 2,200 retired policemen are on disability, as are 83 per cent of the city's 1,000 retired firemen. These figures are far higher than those for other major cities, according to sources who have examined retirement systems around the country.
District of Columbia budget officials fear financial disaster. If the pensions were stopped now, the citys' liability would be about $1.5 billion. The figure is constantly growing because retirees receive every raise given employees on active duty. Money for the retirement system is appropriated year by year on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Disability statistics were brought into public view again recently when Police Chief Maurice J. Cullinane applied for and received a $31,000 a year tax-free disability pension for an aggravated leg injury he received a decade ago.
City budget officials, police surgeons and others have long been concerned were retired on disability. Nearly two years ago Cullinane set up the casualty investigation unit of his internal affairs division to look into the situation amid reports that there were no followup checks on any of the disabled retirees.
Assistant Police Chief Robert L. Rabe says he is reluctant to talk about the operation of his casulty investigation unit, or of any specific abuses it has found, for fear of jeopardizing investigation. "What people don't know won't hurt them," he said yesterday.
From other sources, however, it has been learned that the unit spent between $250,000 and $300,000 last year, primarily for clandestive investigations of policemen and firemen under 50 years old who have retired on disability. Every person in that category is now observed by his unit, Rabe says, and of all those, only a relatively small number are believed to be ineligible to receive disability payments.
The 13-unit man unit has six vans and cars, some equipped with camera equipment. Officers in the unit have taken at least a dozen trips around the country, including one of California where two investigators spent at least five days photographing a man walking without his cane.
The 20 cases that the unit believes are fraudulent have been sent to Perry Battle, chairman of the retirement board. Battle recently told a reporter he was not aware of any backlog of cases sent in by internal affairs. He also said he could not recall a case of a retiree cut off from pension benefits because he was found to have been rehabilitated.
It has since been learned that Battle and his superiors in the D.C. personnel deaprtment and senior police officials met last September to discuss police complaints that nothing was being done with the internal affairs investigations.
Jim Mandish, deputy personnel director, recently explained that after the September meeting, Battle then sent the cases to the police and fire clinic and requested new physicals for the reitrees in question, but months went by and nothing happened.
[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] as energetic as he could have been," in following up, Mandish said.
The supervisor of the police and fire clinic, Capt. Joe Latella, could not be reached for comment yesterday. He and his administrative subordinates have recently assumed command of the clinic, succeeding a series of police administrators who retired on disability. The new officers have said previously they do not know the extent of the backlog of paperwork in some areas concerning retirees.
George Harrod, director of the city's personnel department, in answer to a reporter's question yesterday, said that he, Mandish, and Battle coincidentally had met yesterday morning and had committed themselves to "pushing" the iternal affairs cases to the retirement board.
"We've got a lot of problems elsewhere (in personnel) and we didn't have enough time to keep our attention focused on it (the police investigations)," Harrod said. "We have talked to people at the clinic and they have said hopefully they will get (the notices for re-examination) out by the end of the week." If the retirees in question can work, Harrod said, "I want them back to work."
meanwhile newly appointed Police Chief Burtell M. Jefferson has requested a complete status report from the casually investigation unit.
City officials, citing the sensitivity of medical information, have refused to allow a reporter to examine retirement files to determine whether there has been any follow-up of people retired on disability. Board policy requires a physical examination every two years, but the new officers in charge of the clinic concede they do not yet know in how many cases this has been done.
Reynolds, in contrast to the city officials who retired him and now are investigating him, speaks openly about his case.
Because of his physical condition, he has worked only briefly, earning a total of some $3,600, over the last five years, he says. He was paid $1,800 for two months work as an assistant coach at Bowie State.
"I live off the pension and my wife teaches," he says. They reside in an apartment in Oxon Hill.
Reynolds, a former football player, said he has ballooned from 220 pounds to 302 since he left the police department. He describes his life now as "very boring," and says he spends most of his time watching soap operas on television.
To those who might be critical of his lifestyles, he says, "I wish they had undergone my shoulder operations - they hurt."
Reynolds' physician, Dr. Stanford A. Lavine, has said in recent correspondence to Reynolds that he has "permanent-partial disability of both shouders." His actions should be limited, Lavine advises, according to "the discomfort of what you are able to do or not do."
Lavine, an orthopedic surgeon who also works with a number of athletes locally refused to talk with a reporter this week about police disability retirements.